science environment

As Drought Grips Oregon, A Water Warning In Bend

By Emily Cureton (OPB)
Bend, Ore. July 6, 2020 9:17 p.m.
Water flows coming out of Wickiup Dam on the Upper Deschutes vary wildly between summer and winter. That causes cut banks and erosion along the river banks, as well as damaging habitat for frogs, fish, and wildlife.

Water flows coming out of Wickiup Dam on the Upper Deschutes vary wildly between summer and winter. That causes cut banks and erosion along the river banks, as well as damaging habitat for frogs, fish, and wildlife.

Amanda Peacher  / OPB

Drought is gripping Oregon’s dry side this summer.

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Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared an emergency in seven counties. By Monday, the city of Bend alerted its residents to conserve water.

Bend's warning does not include any new mandatory restrictions, instead asking residents to be responsible and follow specific, existing rules, like not watering lawns and gardens during the hottest daytime hours.

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The city has two sources of water: a spring high in the Cascade Mountains and an aquifer deep underground. Irrigation districts serving farmland in Central Oregon pull water out of the Deschutes River. Those reservoirs are at historic lows this year.

Bend water conservation program manager Dan Denning said having dual sources makes the city more resilient to drought.

"We would be able to handle our water with one source... but we’re all in the same basin," Denning said.

The governor's July 1 emergency drought declaration sweeps across regions where agriculture relies on scant water: Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson in central Oregon, Douglas and Josephine counties in southern Oregon, and Gilliam and Wasco counties in the Columbia River Gorge.

The governor's declaration enables the state Department of Agriculture to seek federal aid. It also instructs the Oregon Water Resources Department to "coordinate and provide assistance to water users," like irrigation districts.

One form of assistance from OWRD could be allowing water users to change which water source they use.

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